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Reflections on Evangelical Blogs (1)

In a recent post at the collaborative blog, Pen and Parchment, where one is is never wont to find standard conservative evangelical fare, these two axioms are put forth at the beginning of a discussion of the much belaboured evangelical discussion of women in ministry:

“There are some things that women are better at than men.”

“There are some things that men are better at than women.”

Frankly I have no idea what these alleged “things” could be unless they were perhaps “getting pregnant” or “entering the world’s strongest man competition.”  Such propositions, elevated to the status of theological axioms are far more than unhelpful, they are downright conversation stoppers.  Oh, and they’re patently false.  I defy anyone to enumerate a list of these supposed things that women and men are always better or lesser abled in.  You don’t have to be a left-leaning wack job to see that such statements are blatantly ideological and self-serving.

41 Comments

  1. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    This is a bit off topic, but what do you think of von Balthasar’s use of gender?

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    I think its one of the weaker points of his theology.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  3. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I recently heard a professor of mine present a paper on this topic, which is why I asked. It will probably be appearing in Modern Theology in the coming months, so I’ll be interested to hear your response.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  4. Jason Oliver wrote:

    I was over the Parchment and Pen post. I get sick every time I read some like that. The axioms that Patton starts with do not belong in the realm of theology.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  5. Elias Da Silva wrote:

    That’s not theology, nor even a natural idea. I agree with you that unless it’s getting pregnant or entering a world’s strongest man competition, there’s not much difference.

    But onto a question: do you think that there is a role for gender in theological discussions? Or is it something more particular to cultural analysis and philosophy?

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  6. Jon Stock wrote:

    Men can get pregnant:
    http://www.kptv.com/news/15700003/detail.html

    Ah, gender, where are thou oh gender?

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  7. Craig Carter wrote:

    Halden,
    I think you need to chill out. All this “How could they be so stupid as to think that the entire Christian tradition (except for Western Protestants in the past generation) might be even worth listening to on an issue like this?” is over-wrought. Let’s get a perspective. The entire Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions plus most of the growing conservative, Pentecostal and Evangelical branches of Protestantism continue with the tradition on the women in ministry issue. (These groups represent what, maybe 75-85% of all the Christians in the world?) On the other hand, we have the liberal Protestants of the modern West (who brought us the social gospel, the end of world missions, abortion on demand, sexual promiscuity as normal and homosexual “marriage”), who are rabidly in favor of women in ministry (and willing to split the body of Christ wide open over it, which is evidence of spiritual pride if anything ever was.).

    Oh, and by the way. (News Flash!) Women and men are different. (Second News Flash!) Being different does not imply inferiority or superiority. The difference is rooted in creation. Gender is not totally socially constructed (shaped to some extent of course, but not socially constructed). If it is, then homosexual marriage is right (and so is every other deviation society eventually decides to accept).

    OK, you have made your position on the issue clear. But here is what I want to know. Are you still open to fellowship with those who disagree? If not, where exactly does that leave you? What gives you the right to presume that your minority view should automatically be imposed on the whole church without further discussion? Do I get a whiff of Western imperialism?

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 6:47 pm | Permalink
  8. john wrote:

    I’m not sure what the converse would mean. The leveling of gender distinctions is at war with nature. Are you saying that there is no essential differences between men and women? It is not surprising to see the great reversal of homosexuality being accepted in the Church. What, then, precludes other deviant sexual acts: polyamory, adult consensual incest, bestiality. The traditional discriminating criterion are being arbitrarily dismissed. We used to discriminated proper sexual activity based on: blood, species, age, and gender. But now that all gender differences are sociological (and thus non-essential), there is no basis upon which to discriminate right practice.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Craig, I think perhaps you may need to chill out as well, my friend. I certainly think that the tradition is worth listening too, I try pretty hard to do that in as many ways as I can think of. I’ve never yet gotten an answer from the tradition about what exactly it is about the ontological distinction between men and women that leads us to “only men can have power and exercise priestly functions in the church.” Encountering the tradition does not mean parroting it, nor does faithfulness to the traditon mean the static repetion of some supposedly immanent core within the tradition. Here I would refer you to Rowan Williams’ book on Arius. The relationship between heresy and orthodoxy is far more complex than belabored assertions of “we’ve always done it this way”. As a Yoderian, I’m surprised we are so far apart on this, to be honest.

    I certainly agree that men and women are different, but that is an altogether different statement from the claim that therefore there are certain activities or skills or abiliites that are exclusively determined by one’s gender. That is precisely the unsubstantiated claim that is being tossed around here. Defining precisely what the differences are is what I would like to hear from those who argue for subordinationism, not simply assertions that gender difference exits. Merely asserting gender differentiation does not establish the shape of our social and theological practices. What I have never heard and expect never to hear is an actual theological elucidation of how someone’s having a vagina makes them ontologically unable to exercise the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments.

    I’m also uncomfortable with the way you’re sneaking natural theology in the back door here by rooting your idea of gender differentiation (and I’m assuming, subordination?) in creation rather than Christology and redemption.

    The overblown slippery slope argument also fails to impress me here. If you look through my posts tagged under sexuality, you will find that I am quite conservative in regards to homosexuality and the whole nonsense about transgender issues. However, guilt by association and fear never seemed like good reasons for me to declare in a conservative direction on the issue of women in ministry just to fit a platform. I need a better reason than that.

    As to your final question, absolutely I would fellowship with those who disagree with me on this issue. I have no program or idea in mind about how to superimpose my convictions onto the entire body of Christ, frankly the idea of having such programmatic ambitions seems to me to manifest a power quite at odds with cruciformity.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  10. Hill wrote:

    Any discussion on this issue has to grapple directly with the text of scripture as well as the sexed aspects of the metaphor of Christ and his church. To my mind, that establishes a certain status quo.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    I agree with that, Hill. That is precisely the issue that evangelicals continue to debate. I’m actually quite more convinced by egalitarian treatments of the relevant New Testament Scriptures than their subordinationist interlocutors. But that is another matter altogether.

    Also, the metaphor of the church as the Bride is certainly significant, however, what might we make of the implications of the metaphor of the body as long as we are exploring the sexed nature of the New Testament metaphors for the church? It seems that the body of Jesus would have to be male, would it not? To my mind pushing such metaphors to a point of allowing them to adjudicate contemporary issues such as the one under discussion is to ask them to do more heavy lifting than they can do.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 7:38 pm | Permalink
  12. Hill wrote:

    I agree with your point about pushing these sorts of theological metaphors too far. However, a certain understanding of the relationship of man to woman (essentially marriage) is required for the metaphor to have any meaning whatsoever. Whether or not subscribes to “subordinationism” (I’m really unfamiliar with the terminology proper to this debate), I think one has to at least admit that there are unique masculine and feminine roles. Basically, sexual difference is an ontological reality, and even more than that, part of the basic grammar of God’s communication of himself to us. I’m really not trying to do anything other than establish that the so called “orthodox” position on these matters isn’t something one can trivially dismiss. I think at best one can advocate some sort of movement of the spirit which may have changed the situation in some way. That is a difficult task, however, and in this case, it isn’t exactly “tradition” that attests to this “orthodox” position, but every single available historical fact. One has to explain how the church could have gotten it wrong for so long (from it’s very beginning), and I’ve never found the argument that “the apostles were a product of their sexist times” to be particularly convincing. I think such arguments tend to undermine our basis for scriptural exegesis in general. I’m just throwing some stuff out there, though. Haven’t thought about this in a while.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    I agree that sexual difference is an ontological reality, but the question that I have (and perhaps I am impetuous to interrogate the tradition in this way) is what precisely that ontological distinction is and how does it yield the resulting “unique masculine and feminine roles”?

    The assertion of sexual difference doesn’t bring us to the point of specifying gender roles. That gap has to be filled with meaningful theological content, and I never see it filled.

    In other words, I am hoping (not asking you to do this, I’m also just throwing some stuff out there) for someone of the traditionalist position to just come out, bite the bullet and say “Yes, women are ontological constituted to make babies, raise them in the home, and cook my food and here are the theological reasons for it.” But no one seems willing to put that kind of money where their mouth is. I don’t blame them.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Permalink
  14. Craig Carter wrote:

    Halden,
    This is a good discussion. Let’s take it a bit further.

    1. No, we don’t mindless parrot the tradition, but we do give it the benefit of the doubt.

    2. You speak of ordained ministry of word and sacrament as exercising power. That is just not fair to the tradition and it misunderstands WHO is really working through the sacraments. Ministers are servants, not power-workers. The ideological critique of theology as an ideology of power is dangerous, you know, because it goes all the way down.

    3. I don’t think the deepest reasons why women have traditionally been excluded from ordained ministry really have anything to do with an assessement of things like IQ, speaking ability or other abilities. There have undoubtedly been some who rationalize their view in this way, but to attribute such views to a Benedict XVI or a John Paul II (or other informed representative of the tradition) seems to me to be just plain wrong.

    3. The doctrine of creation is not natural theology. There is a world of difference between a theology of nature and natural theology. Who we are is determined in Jesus Christ and our understanding of the meaning of gender is Christologically determined. I believe Paul also believed this.

    4. The argument against ordination of women is rooted in the nature of the priestly function of the minister, who stands in the place of Christ in the church. Now, this is different for RC, EO, and some Anglicans, who view the ministry primarily in priestly terms, than it is for low church traditions which do not. But those of us from the low church traditions need to make an effort to understand the argument here. The specificity and particularity of the incarnation, the fact that Jesus chose all men as the Twelve, and the function of the priest representing Christ to the congregation in the ministry of Word and Sacrament are the reasons given for the limiting of this particular function to men. You have not responded to these arguments.

    5. RC theology sees women as making an indispensible contribuition to the body of Christ, one which men cannot make. None of us is sufficient alone and neither gender is sufficient alone. For Baltahsar, the church as a whole (despite the reservation of sacramental priesthood to males) is fundamentally and most characteristically female (the bride of Christ). Our primary function as human creatures is to receive Christ and so for the Church to look at the priestly function as superior and higher and better is to turn reality upside down and to see the master as better than the servant and to look at the things of the gospel from worldly perspective, dominated as it is by a power struggle for prominence that views passive receptivity as a sign of weakness and only worthy of scorn. Yet we worship a crucified Messiah.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 8:11 pm | Permalink
  15. Jason Oliver wrote:

    I have a problem with the whole, ” Well in the Old Testament the priests were male and the apostles were male” argument.
    The priests in the Old Testament were also Levites and from the House of Aaron and the apostles were all Jewish. That’s a moot point.

    Christ was male, and the Spirit poured out on men and women, young and old to prophesy as the prophet Joel declared and was fulfilled on Pentecost. Deborah was judge/elder of Israel was a prophet as well. The Church is called a kingdom of priests as Israel was called in the Hebrew Bible. All are called the sons of God and co-heirs with Christ. There is one and only one High Priest. The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable.

    The exegesis used against keeping women from ordination is strained at the least and the theological arguments done by evangelical complementarians more reflect Western European, and Victorian ideals of womanhood than the witness of Scripture which doesn’t give a definition of womanhood let alone manhood. Men and women are created in the image of God.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 8:12 pm | Permalink
  16. Jason Oliver wrote:

    Craig,

    As a member of the low church tradition we do see the function of the minister in priestly terms. We have the extra emphasis of the priesthood of all believers. We take that very seriously.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  17. Jason Oliver wrote:

    For more clarification,

    The priesthood of all believers (Luther) as I understand it goes beyond the ministry of Word and Sacrament. All Christians have a responsibility to be servants unto God. Laity male and female are representatives of Christ to each other and to the world. We pray and make intercession on behalf of each other just as the Son and the Spirit makes intercession on behalf of the Church. It is true that not every priest can serve as a minister of the Word and Sacrament, but we are priests nonetheless in the ministry to which God has called us.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 8:32 pm | Permalink
  18. scott wrote:

    I won’t address the issue of ordination directly – but I agree with Halden’s initial reaction on theological grounds. I’ve recently been reading Barth on the difference between man and woman, which he takes to be a ‘structural’ distinciton that is ontological – but that difference is mapped on to the (biologically observable) fact that God created two sexes, male and female.

    Barth is quite wonderful, in my view, in that he refuses to conflate sex (the structural distinction, mapped onto our bodies) and gender, the latter of which is a self-conception – derived from the actual roles and activities of men and women in different cultures, times and places – of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. (see CD III.4, 150-56).

    I think the basic theological problem with the quote Halden rightly ridicules is that it conflates (created) sex and (constructed) gender, as does a lot in the above discussion. I’m not so naive to think that just making a distinction between sex and gender settles the issue – because obviously, to maintain an ontological-structural distinction that is also biological means that the distinction of male-female, which actually exists, will play itself out in real life. (To say it another way, that men and women have different plumbing might be the bare fact, but that difference is bound up with, e.g., different experiences of and roles in sexual activity and procreation.)

    To seek the ontological distinction of men and women in Scripture and God’s revelation does not mean that you deny any ‘difference’ (a pretty generic term here!) between men and women, but it does mean that one is willing to question cultural constructions of ‘masculinity’ and ‘feminity’ (which hinge on identifying certain character traits and social roles with biological-sexual difference) in light of the theological distinction between God’s creation of humankind as male and/or female.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 5:56 am | Permalink
  19. Dave Belcher wrote:

    Scott, cf. Graham Ward’s many writings on Barth, but particularly his stuff in Cities of God where he discusses these issues quite helpfully (and though I disagree with the way in which his conclusions are reached — which means I somewhat disagree with his conclusions — his essay “The Displaced Body of Christ” is a helpful “in” for this conversation, I think). Also, for a somewhat contrasting position from Barth, Catherine Keller has a really solid and careful reading of him in her book The Face of the Deep (and I *do* take issue with her process inflections and conclusions…but otherwise really find Keller to be helpful).

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 7:02 am | Permalink
  20. Dave Belcher wrote:

    The stuff on Barth and sexual difference by the way is not in the referenced essay, but near the end of Cities of God. Peace.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 7:02 am | Permalink
  21. Craig Carter wrote:

    Jason,
    With respect to your first post above, I don’t agree with the first and third paragraphs, but in the second paragraph you get to the heart of the theological issue. You are absolutely right to point out that the priesthood of all believers is taken seriously in the low church tradition and that it is very relevant. If Pentecost is meant to be a sign of the conferring of priesthood on all (male and female) in contrast to Israel (where it was a male-only institution), then ordination of women is not only justified, but mandated.

    However, there are at least three discussions going on here. One is the question of ordination in high church traditions, another is the question of ordination in low church traditions and the third is the liberal view that any restriction on women in ministry must obviously arise from a view of women as inferior to men. I originally responded to Halden’s post because it seemed to me that he was expressing (intentionally or not) the third position. For the sake of ecumenical relations we need to understand each other’s actual position. And in my judgment, the mainstream Christian Tradition at this moment (continuing a 20 century tradition) does not ordain women and this is not simply based on beliefs that women are inferior. To say that is to cut off discussion.

    A report in the Church of England released yesterday calls for structural changes in the church to create separate dioceses for those who, in good conscience, cannot accept women bishops. The C of E is going to ordain women bishops soon, but if it does so under present conditions there will be a split. It remains to be seen whether two branches of the Anglican tradition can agree to disagree on such an issue and remain in communion. The ecumenical implications for the Anglican Communion and for RC-Anglican relations are huge.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 7:09 am | Permalink
  22. signonthewindow wrote:

    Craig et al – This is a tension Mennonite women live with as well. We have Conferences (Lancaster) where women can’t even lead worship let along be head pastors or preach. But I hope you can empathize with the frustration for women (like myself) who are gifted to preach and teach to continue in patient dialog. It feels a bit like burying your talents in the ground.

    But for women what is particularly frustrating (skipping the asinine assertion that women and men simply do some things better than others. I’m currently preaching better than some men and being pregnant at the same time) is lack of willingness to mine the tradition. Working at a Catholic institution my cup runneth over with wonder as our students fail to ask questions about cult of Mary, her perpetual virginity, to be honest about Augustine’s early writings on gender inferiority, to look closer at Aquinas N.E. conviction that women cannot be virtuous because of their gender, that there are ways this is a part of the tradition today.

    I do, though appreciate the constructive work of orthodox feminism on these points. I’d point you to Beth Felker Jones’ dissertation-turned-book “Marks of His Wounds.” She defended her dissertation when she was 7 months pregnant which makes it that much more awesome.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  23. Ben George wrote:

    signonthewindow, how is it “asinine” to assert that women do things better than men? Even were we to just boil it down to the ONE thing that is utterly obvious–that women can bear children–that still is one big thing, and something that surely finds reflection in a multitude of life’s areas.

    If you are preaching and teaching now (“better than some men”), why do you feel like you are burying your talents?

    And as regards Mary, what should we be questioning? In your list of questionable tradition, you have Tradition mixed in with tradition, and just from a Catholic standpoint, if you want to be heard about your concerns, then you might want to pick your battles: talking about Augustine and Aquinas being chauvanists might be tolerable and even necessary, but questioning Mary’s chastity will mark you as a destroyer and someone to ignore.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 8:35 am | Permalink
  24. I wouldn’t say being able to give birth is ontologically “better” than not. It simply is.

    I fortunately live in a Conference where restricting my gifts for the sake of dialog and patient inquiry has not been asked. This is not the case for many women in the Mennonite church.

    Catholic feminists (Johnson and Schussler Fiorenza among them) have often commented on the occupation of the Catholic church with Mary. One question these women bring up is whether perpetual virginity was influenced more by Gnosticism and fear of sexuality than theological expression. This is reflective in the virginity valorization tradition handed down through early church narrative (see Peter Brown’s commentary on Jerome).

    I certainly hope you won’t label the majority of your church’s female critical theologians as “destroyer and someone to ignore.” That certainly would be to your impoverishment.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 8:59 am | Permalink
  25. Jason Oliver wrote:

    The RCC and EO’s preoccupation with the physical representation of Christ’s maleness as a requisite for service in ordained ministry is foreign to my understanding of the New Testament. It’s like saying women cannot fully represent Christ because they are women. Yet, they have his Spirit if they are baptized believers. Please forgive me but I am at a loss for understanding this reasoning.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 9:11 am | Permalink
  26. Devin Rose wrote:

    Halden wrote: “I certainly agree that men and women are different, but that is an altogether different statement from the claim that therefore there are certain activities or skills or abilities that are exclusively determined by one’s gender.”

    If the priesthood is just about be physically and intellectually capable of doing certain activities or having certain skills and abilities, then there isn’t any reason women could not become priests.

    However, I believe that the priesthood, conferred by God through the sacrament of Holy Orders, is much more than just the activities and external actions that a priest does and that to reduce the priesthood to these external actions greatly distorts its true nature.

    Mary Ann Glendon and Mary Beth Bonacci are just two prominent examples of women who both accept this teaching and who are using their God-given gifts with great eloquence and effectiveness.

    God did not diminish men by only giving the gift of being able to nurture a baby to women; neither did he diminish women by only giving the gift of being able to be a priest to men.

    I view this teaching as similar in some ways to the Immaculate Conception (that the Virgin Mary was conceived and preserved from original sin by God), in that it was fitting that God preserve her from original sin. He didn’t have to, but it is the way that God decided to do it, and therefore we should not rail against it as being unfair that he didn’t do the same thing for me and others, nor should we strive through reason alone to understand why he did such a thing.

    We can learn some theological explanations of these things but ultimately we make up our mind based on whether we accept in faith what God has seen fit to do, whether with the Immaculate Conception doctrine or only women being able to conceive children or only men being ordained to the priesthood.

    I recommend reading Ordinatio Sacerdotalis as well as Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Women and Mulieris Dignitatem for further explanation of priestly ordination and the dignity of women.

    Blessings in Christ!

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  27. Hill wrote:

    Jason,

    I think the problem is that you are looking for a rigorous syllogistic rationale for RC and EO teaching on this matter. It is not that they have a “preoccupation with the physical representation of Christ’s maleness” but rather that Christ himself did. Which is to say that for a reason that may prove ultimately inscrutable at this point, Christ selected men only for the apostolic office, and the Church has never seen itself as having the authority to contradict his actions on this score. While you may find that unsatisfying, it is equally unsatisfying to suggest that Christ was culturally constrained in his selection of all men or that he simply chose all men by chance. A further point is that very often, people outside of these traditions will look at the reservation of the priesthood to males and end their analysis immediately, concluding that chauvinism is clearly at work. They unfortunately miss the complimentary thread of distinctly feminine theology in both RC and EO. (This strand of thought may have been neglected in certain historical periods, and this would be a legitimate instance of chauvinism) Basically, without a robust Mariology, I can see how one might perceive a certain sexism in the traditional teaching regarding ordination. I really recommend that anyone interested in RC teaching on this subject read Dignitatem Mulieris (On the Dignity of Women) written by Pope John Paul II.

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_15081988_mulieris-dignitatem_en.html

    While one still may disagree about various premises, it is simply ignorant to accuse either RC of EO of a base chauvinism on this score.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  28. Hill wrote:

    I see I’ve managed to repeat much of what Devin said. If nothing else, take that as a further recommendation of the pieces suggested.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 10:05 am | Permalink
  29. Jason Oliver wrote:

    Hill,
    Since I am very ignorant of breath RCC and EO theologies on this matter I will reading your recommendation posted in your comment. Thanks you for all of your insight.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  30. Jason Oliver wrote:

    Hill,

    Please be assured that I do not say this with any anger or disdain towards you. Be Blessed.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  31. Hill wrote:

    No worries at all Jason. I appreciate the dialogue.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  32. Andrew wrote:

    wayne grudem is a perfect example of the ‘elevated status’ you highlighted. he dares to prescribe ‘roles’ to the Trinity (specifically, Son is subject to the Father), therefore women are subject to men (which is really about as nuanced as his reasoning gets). ‘roles’ are in the ‘biblical plan’, whatever the hell that is. so if you are a feminist or simply refuse to stress gender specific roles, you worship goddesses and have pagan orgies and are going to hell.
    i am so glad we have finally realized the full, liberative freedom found in the Gospel….

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  33. Ben George wrote:

    “I certainly hope you won’t label the majority of your church’s female critical theologians as “destroyer and someone to ignore.” That certainly would be to your impoverishment.”

    In so far as they attempt to dismantle the Tradition, it is to their impoverishment. There are plenty of female Doctors of the Church who aren’t trying to call into question basic assumptions of the faith. And there are plenty of male “critical theologians” who do. It’s not about male/female, it’s about the truth handed to the apostles.

    As mortal humans we only have a limited amount of time to think and to read–that time should be spent reading and thinking with those who teach the faith most truly.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  34. Ben – I hope you wouldn’t see mining the tradition and critiquing problematic root issues as dismantling of Tradition. Some of our great theological forebearers could also express some heterodox notions in their Christology. You can still get a lot from Origen while asking how his self-mutilation affects the way we think about the body. You can still reference Tertullian even while noting his dualistic tendency to see birth as repulsive. I would encourage you to give space for those who ask some of the difficult questions which may feel uprooting to you.

    Andrew – I remember that. Mimi Haddad was pissed and I think rightfully so. Let’s call Arianism Arianism, particularly when it issues from a group like ETS.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  35. Ben George wrote:

    Hi Melissa,

    I encourage you to think with the Church, and to be suspicious of uprooters first before one is suspicious of the fathers (and mothers!!) of our Church.

    The first thing one knows about Origen and Tertullian is not that they had some questionable opinions about the body. Their hetrodoxy isn’t the banner of their theological program.

    On the other hand, those who deny the faith and call into question the virginity of Mary, or whose first demand is “women priests now”–the first thing we know about them is their hetrodoxy, and their demands that such hetrodoxy be accepted. In more subdued contexts, “those who ask difficult questions” are so often those who propose their own answers without first asking what the mind of the Church has held. I realize that sounds very broad-brush, but it is what I have found to be the case: “that kind” of theologian has a general suspicion of the tradition. That’s not a faith that saves souls.

    In the original comment which I was critiquing, signonthewindow expressed wonder that her Catholic students would be reluctant to question tradition at her say so. I am asking signonthewindow and similar minded theologians to maybe take a step back and “wonder” at their own “wonder”: frustration with those who trust the tradition over against their professor?

    And perhaps that is the root of this entire discussion, the chips are falling along the standard RC/Protestant lines: Tradition vs Proove It!! Hermeneutic of trust vs hermeneutic of suspicion.

    Forgive if I have caracatured the debate.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  36. Halden wrote:

    Ben, while I agree that much of this discourse is shrill and some of it ideological, I get the sense that you just don’t think that the tradition should really ever be questioned about anything.

    A hermenutic of trust is not the same thing as a hermeneutic of blind obedience, nor is every critical hermeneutic nothing more than a hermeneutic of suspicion.

    Craig, sorry I haven’t yet responded to your thorough comments. I have been preoccupied with Luther and finishing out my term. I will respond to you shortly, though. All the best.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  37. Hill wrote:

    Just to add something, I think Ben is trying to make a distinction between things which are essentially nonnegotiable articles of faith for a given tradition (for example, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the Immaculate Conception) versus things which, while in a certain sense part of the “tradition” are not intrinsically nonnegotiable (like priestly celibacy, for instance, or a certain strand of theology in the thought of a certain church father). This is an important distinction in RC or EO dogmatics. As a hypothetical, it is perfectly reasonable for even a vehement proponent of Origen to remain critical of this or that stance, or to have a discussion about priestly celibacy or even the ordination of women. However, asking a Catholic to critically examine something like the perpetual virginity of Mary, which is a received object of faith, is something altogether different, both due to it’s status as an objective article of faith but also because it is a statement of purported historical fact, and the only germane criticism of it would be conclusive factual evidence that presently does not exist.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 3:05 pm | Permalink
  38. Hill – except that faithful Catholics DO ask questions like this. But I’m not even saying “question it and throw it to the dogs.” I do think there needs to be a very honest conversation about the development of that dogma. People still baptize babies even though they hear the Anabaptist concern that padobaptism was historically tied to nation-state identity. I still believe in the virtue of chastity although I have serious concerns about the protrayal of virginity in the early church.

    I would hope one could remain a proponent of the ever Virgin Mary while still excavating its origins.

    Ben – I’m also “sign.” My gmail logs me out of my blog id. Sorry for the confusion.

    I’m sure part of this springs from my Radical Reformation tradition which has been suspicious of Tradition (capital “T”). We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today if our forefathers/mothers had trusted their profs over Tradition. For their willingness to question and call to account I am deeply grateful.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  39. Hill wrote:

    Melissa, thanks for your response. I don’t mean to suggest the development of the doctrine can’t be questioned, but that questioning typically takes the form of an investigation of it’s historical development, as you mentioned. I guess what I mean is that there are certain items of faith which are factual assertions, with the resurrection of Christ being the paradigm of this sort of thing, perhaps. I’m just suggesting that these sorts of issues have a different character than, for instance, moral theology. I don’t mean by that to dismiss an attempt to understand the development of the doctrine historically or the theological reflection of the Church on said doctrine. Certain things just have the status of given for Christians, the inspiration of scripture, the virgin birth, and the resurrection of Christ being three that are universal among Christians, and the immaculate conception being an example for Roman Catholics specifically. Questioning them as a Christian is possible, but it begins to question the very ground that enables the questions one is asking, a phenomenon which is likely as convoluted as this sentence.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 4:33 pm | Permalink
  40. Halden wrote:

    But Hill, even if what you say is true, the question under discussion here is not of the same order as the resurrection of Christ, it is rather preciesely a question of moral theology and ecclesial polity which seems to be exactly the sort of issue over which such questioning should be much more possible and less high stakes. Thus, I don’t really see how your qualifications are germane to the actual issue at hand.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  41. Hill wrote:

    I totally agree, Halden. My most recent comments aren’t actually concerning the ordination of women. I think at some point I actually acknowledged that this question is in something of a grey area with regard to the categories I outlined. I was just trying to shed some light on the disagreement between Ben and Melissa. Sorry for perpetuating the derailment of this thread.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

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